San Francisco 49ers: Why LaMichael James Will Become an Elite Running Back

Baily DeeterSenior Writer IIIJune 20, 2012

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 11:  LaMichael James #23 of the San Francisco 49ers carries the ball up field during Rookie Minincamp at the San Francisco 49ers practice facility on May 11, 2012 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

When the San Francisco 49ers picked LaMichael James in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, a lot of fans celebrated. A lot of 49ers fans were angry with the pick.

San Francisco made the NFC Championship Game and came just shy of reaching Super Bowl 46. There aren't many things the 49ers need to do to improve, as they have a great defense, a good offensive line, a good receiving corps, a good group of running backs and a good quarterback.

The 49ers have Kendall Hunter, Frank Gore, Anthony Dixon and Brandon Jacobs at running back. Jacobs was brought in via free agency, and since he is a goal-line back, most people thought San Francisco was set at running back.

Then, they drafted James.

I have always liked James. As a Cal and Pac-12 fan, I've watched him play at Oregon a lot. He has great vision and is very explosive, and he can break tackles very well for his size. He fights for extra yardage and will wait for blocks before bursting through a hole.

Even though he is just 5'8" and 194 pounds, James could be a third-down or short-yardage back. The Niners do have Brandon Jacobs, but he gets stopped for losses or no gain sometimes. If the Niners are one or two yards away from a first down, use Jacobs. If they're three to seven yards away, use James.

James averaged an amazing 7.3 yards per carry in his final season as a Duck, and in his three-year career, he ran for 53 touchdowns. Against Stanford, a top-tier defense, he ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.

While a lot of fast running backs that dominate in college end up being a bust, James will have a place in San Francisco. He is tough and will never give up on a play, and even though NFL defenders rarely miss tackles, he will find a way to pick up the necessary yardage.

Anthony Dixon seems to be the odd man out, and Frank Gore has been hampered by injuries throughout his career. Kendall Hunter could be a star, but I think he and James could share some carries since both are young.

If Gore gets hurt (which is very likely), James should move up to second or third on the depth chart. He could be a third-down back, as he can slip out of tackles easily and he can make quick cuts. James rarely gets tackled for a loss, which I learned by watching him in person twice.

The first time I saw him in person was when Oregon took on Cal in 2010. He didn't play very well, but he made the plays he needed to. On 4th-and-2 in the fourth quarter of a tight game, Cal seemed to have him cornered. However, he was patient, and when a hole opened up, he burst through it for the first down.

That play was key, as Oregon won 15-13 and held on to its No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings.

The game may have been the worst of James' Oregon career, but he found a way to make an impact. In a huge game against Stanford, he made an even bigger impact.

James burst through every hole he could find, and against a much bigger Stanford team, he dominated. The Cardinal had a great defense, but James dominated them. Every time a hole opened up, he burst right through it. Stanford had no chance against him.

Overall, James is a great player. He has played against future NFL stars and he has dominated them. He picked apart defenses on his way to becoming a Heisman Trophy candidate. While people think his style won't translate to the NFL, he is out on a mission to prove them wrong.

And on that mission, he will transform into an NFL star.